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Rock Hall, Cleveland Art Museum Look To Reopen In June

After two months of "strange days," Rock Hall CEO Greg Harris is looking forward to a new tune at his museum [David C. Barnett / ideastream]
Rock Hall CEO Greg Harris, guitar in hand, says his museum is getting ready to rock again

Northeast Ohio museums are taking tentative steps towards reopening after a two-month shutdown due to the pandemic. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Museum of Art are setting their sights on June.

Rock Hall CEO Greg Harris said the John Lennon song, "Nobody Told Me," with its refrain, "strange days indeed," has been his theme song of late. But now he's "beginning to see the light" with plans to reopen his museum, darkened since mid-March.

"We are using June 15th as our target date for reopening and having all of our protocols in place to do so safely and carefully,” he said. “It hinges on the state of Ohio approving our sector”.

Harris thinks a mid-June date will give the Rock Hall and other museums around the state time to assess the impact that reopening is having on the restaurant and retail sectors, which recently had their plans approved.

"When you arrive at our museum, whether it's for our offices or as a visitor, everybody will have a temperature scan. That's being recommended as best practices,” Harris said. “We’re going to have nurse trainees taking temperatures.”

All Rock Hall employees will be wearing facemasks, and visitors will be expected to wear them, as well. Masks will be provided to those who need them.

“And once your enter our museum, it will be a touch-free entry with a digital ticket on your phone, and then traffic in the museum will flow in one direction,” he said, adding that visitors without smartphones can bring printouts of their tickets, much as you would attending a sporting event or boarding a plane.

In addition to touch-free ticketing, some exhibits that feature hands-on participation – like the Garage, where visitors play real instruments – will be temporarily closed.

For the time being, the Rock Hall will follow social distancing guidelines recommended by American Association of Museum Directors, which call for 113 square feet per person. Harris says he’s expecting only around 50% of the museum’s normal capacity will be circulating through the building at any one time. He’s looking to establish a timed-ticket procedure to help the museum from becoming too crowded.

Visitors will find some plastic shields in the museum’s café and retail store, fitting rooms for apparel will be closed and CD racks won’t be out in the near term.

Harris said University Hospitals infectious disease specialist Dr. Keith Armitage is the museum’s advisor for these and other procedures. For older visitors or anyone else with health concerns, Harris said the Rock Hall will reserve special hours on select days to meet their needs.

Harris is expecting that most out-of-town visitors will stay at home for quite a while. He said 50% of the museum’s attendance comes from a five-hour radius of the museum, and that’s the first group he expects to see coming through the doors.

Initially, there will be a leaner staff than usual inside those doors, due to reductions of visitor-facing employees.

“We furloughed two thirds of our staff,” he said. “We continue to pay their health insurance, because this is a medical crisis and we wanted to keep that up in bringing them back.”

Harris said people will be brought back slowly, based on visitor demand.

“We want to avoid bringing a massive call back, and then if things shut down again, having to furlough everybody again,” he said.

The Cleveland Museum of Art issued an email statement Wednesday pointing to June 30 as a tentative reopening date, but that could change based on any safety concerns for visitors, volunteers and staff.

In addition to the art museum establishing safety protocols in coordination with health and government officials, the statement said, "a limited number of free, timed general admission tickets will be available. More details will be announced in the coming weeks as plans are finalized."

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.